Helping clients in uncharted territory, finding real mentorship and balance, and continuous learning and discovery underpin the high-profile wins and awards from the women leaders in the Washington, D.C. office.
Nadira Clarke, Heather Choi and Anne Carpenter chose Baker Botts for a variety of reasons – whether it was from being a 1L Summer Associates to wanting an elite firm in which to grow a premier practice – a testament to opportunity, growth, mentorship and community.
They continue to make the office a powerhouse destination for lawyers across practices and industries who will find opportunities and support at every stage of their career.
Partner Nadira Clarke said when she was younger, she wanted to be an emergency room doctor.
“I think that kind of urgency and immediacy is really attractive,” said Nadira. “I like that being a part of my practice.”
She sees it in her pro bono work especially.
“It’s gratifying to work on cases where you can so immediately see the impact of your work,” Nadira said. “Where you’re helping people who have so few resources and options that if not for you stepping in, they could literally lose their job permanently, return to a country where they’re almost certainly going to suffer immeasurably, perhaps die, or lose the custody of their child.”
Calm and decisive, Nadira provides leadership and valuable counsel to those in a crisis. As the Washington, D.C. Chair of the Environmental Safety & Incident Response Group, she works with corporations and executives facing large scale, multi-faceted government investigations, and has worked with two separate corporate monitor teams appointed by the court to oversee compliance of companies in the wake of criminal prosecution.
When a plant experiences a major accident or environmental release, Nadira guides the executive leadership through the initial hours, days and weeks of a crisis. Her focus, above all else, is preparing the risk of a criminal investigation. “Things are moving quickly, and every decision is high stakes . . . It is the corporate equivalent of being in an emergency room,” she reflects. Clients are in uncharted territory and they put their trust in her.
Nadira said that makes her want to work even harder.
At various points in her career, she has been underestimated. “There’s nothing more fun than to prove people wrong and in big ways,” Nadira said.
Leading an all-female team, she defended a third-party operator ensnared in a major criminal investigation into an alleged scheme to tamper with the air emissions monitoring equipment at a natural gas fired combined cycle power plant. The operator and ownership entities, including the private equity investor, were all under investigation. “Our client for sure had the most challenging facts of the case, but we were able to convince the prosecutor to decline charges,” Nadira said. “Our client got off with nothing, and the others were indicted. We really brought them to their knees.”
“I think many women have a unique ability for leadership,” Nadira said. “I think strong leaders are often created from experiences that they’ve had, and the misfortunes and challenges that they’ve experienced early on in their life. Women and minorities often have been tested, challenged and pushed in ways that make them strong, deliberate and strategic.”
Outside of her immediate family, Nadira sees many of her Baker Botts colleagues as her “other family.”
“We know each other well, and know our respective strengths and our weaknesses,” she said. “We sort of complete each other in that way. Just the feeling of us all working together and drawing on everybody’s talents, I think that’s what’s most fun to me.”
Nadira came over to Baker Botts almost two years ago with a group of lawyers with whom she’d been working with for years.
“It was a natural fit with Baker Botts because it’s client-based and has a reputation in the environmental and energy space,” Nadira said. “I think the other part was that we felt we developed an elite practice, and we craved being in a firm that was equally elite.”
During her early years in practice, Partner Heather Choi, a corporate investigations and competition lawyer, said female mentorship played a big role in giving her the confidence to succeed as an attorney.
“For me, having women who have been much more senior than me and have served as mentors, definitely makes you feel that if this is the path that you want for your career, it’s achievable,” Heather said.
“You know, you hear a lot about working in big law,” she continued. “Some of it sounds very intimidating and difficult to strike a balance between having a career and a family,” but that doesn’t have to be the case.
The firm has been supportive of growth, personally and professionally, she explained. Even while on maternity leave with her second child, she was promoted to partner.
“There have always been people here at Baker Botts who have personally invested in my career and in my success, and that's something I try and pay forward.”
Serving as the Hiring Partner of the firm’s Washington D.C. office, Heather has helped other people find their career path.
“I’ve been very active in recruiting during my entire time at the firm – like being a summer program mentor, serving on the Employment Committee and then being the chair of it,” Heather said.
She added: “I think the other reason why I like being the Hiring Partner is because I'm really committed to the firm's diversity and inclusion efforts, and it's been great to see the progress that we've been able to make over time in terms of our new lawyer hiring.”
Within her own practice, Heather serves a culturally- and nationally-diverse clientele, working on cross-border investigations for multinational corporations and involving foreign individuals, including companies with operations in Japan, India, Ecuador, Vietnam, China and Bangladesh.
“I feel like I have a way to add extra value when I’m dealing with clients or people who have no familiarity with the US legal system,” Heather said. “And so, it can be an extra hurdle to providing our advice, but it's one that I like.”
“One of the things I like about my practice is that it's not particularly industry specific,” Heather said. “So, every matter can present an opportunity to learn about an area that I was previously completely unfamiliar with – like auto parts or iron pipe fittings.”
Heather said the pandemic has made her practice more interesting.
“I think there are more opportunities to get to know different people within companies that I may have interacted with, but not on a regular basis,” Heather said.
But, Heather said, working remotely has its challenges, too.
“My husband, my two kids (ages 7 and 4), and I spend the day learning and working together,” Heather said. “The children have unionized. Their demands include frequent breaks, Cheeze-Its, and unlimited access to Disney+.”
Staying flexible, Heather said, is the key to productive work at home. “Accept that your productive times will come in chunks that may be outside of typical working hours.”
Heather has been at the firm since her 1L summer – and the strong professional and personal network is the reason why.
“I have friends here who I've known since we were both in our early twenties – people who have been summer associates together are now my law partners,” Heather said. “And I think that that's pretty unique for someone who came out of law school right before the last recession to still be in the same place.”
Before Partner Anne Carpenter went to law school and became a lawyer, she was an environmental educator in New York City, which served as great preparation for her future career.
“You use your persuasion skills to convince and educate kids about why environmental science is important and what you can learn from it, but then when you’re in law, you are also using those skills to communicate law and policy in connection with compliance or with environmental science,” Anne said.
As a former educator, Anne’s lifelong love of learning is a constant, which she brings to her practice.
“When you work as an attorney, one of the things that you really commit to is continuous learning and discovery in connection with each new case, and in connection with each new matter, as well as each new client,” Anne said.
Anne concentrates her practice on technically complex civil and criminal matters, including multi-agency government investigations and enforcement actions, suspension or debarment proceedings, corporate internal investigations and compliance counseling, as well as advising on cyber threats and vulnerabilities to critical infrastructure.
Baker Botts’ environmental law platform is one of the reasons she joined the firm almost two years ago.
“I came from another firm, along with several partners, and what we brought to this firm really created a premier practice that services clients in every aspect of an environmental or an energy related matter, in this space,” Anne said. “And not only environmental counseling, but health and safety, crisis response, enforcement, and compliance counseling as well.”
Anne said the best part is working with her colleagues.
“That is really what brings joy to the work,” Anne said. “Working with people that you find to be not only intellectually challenging, but that you enjoy working with on a personal level and that make the job fun. I will say that I have been very, very lucky for the people that I’ve had the opportunity to work with, both before coming to Baker Botts and here at Baker Botts.”
For two years in a row, Chambers USA ranked Anne in their annual list of top lawyers as “priceless” and “proactive about staying one step ahead.” Anne said she could not have received those accolades without her colleagues’ help.
“It is not easy, and I credit these recognitions, in part, to the support and collaboration of attorneys that I work with,” Anne said, “It’s such a big honor, but it’s really important to realize that one cannot succeed in isolation – a great team is critical.”
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